Introduction: Solitary Bee Habitat

While searching for something for my daughter and I to do together on scistarter, I stumbled upon a project involving insects. Kids love insects, so I thought it was an easy way to get her interested in science. The University of Florida is requesting the help of amateur backyard scientists to track and record solitary bees. We accepted the challenge and got out the tools to make a habitat and a pink clipboard to record the data.

Step 1:

Solitary bees do not make hives like other bees. They make individual nests in hollow reeds, holes in wood, or tunnels in the ground. Creating a man-made habitat is easy and it only requires a few items. The ideal hole size is 1/8 to 3/8 of an inch and 3 to 8 inches deep. The material used can be anything from recycled fast-food drink straws to holes drilled into a 2x4.

Why would anyone want to make a home for these insects?

Because the information gathered is used by the University of Florida to monitor the populations of solitary bees, track introduced non-native or invasive species and create action plans for endangered species.

Step 2:

There are endless possibilities when it comes to bee habitats, so following a step-by-step might be harder than improvising your own. When I designed mine I had a few goals in mind.

1.     I wanted to use bamboo

2.     I wanted the plans to be simple enough for an elementary aged child

3.     I wanted to have the option for no power tools (drill, saw etc.)

I broke the rule 3 for mine; however, you still have the option to skip sanding and use a glue gun instead of a nail gun. Mine was just a proof of concept.   

Step 3:

The bamboo I used was pre-cut into 6-8” pieces and was tied together to be used for garden edging. It was very helpful and should be easy to find at the garden center of your local hardware store. It is easy to dismantle by pulling out the wire that holds them together.  

Step 4:

I sanded the individual bamboo sections with a 1” belt sander. I would recommend skipping this step unless you choose to build yours into an enclosure. The ridges on the bamboo made it difficult to set them next to each other. The bamboo’s natural form is just fine for this project. I sanded mine because I still had not finalized a plan at that point. It was easy to sand, if you must. It took 10 mins to finish 25 sections.

Step 5:

I was trying to find the best configuration and came up with an upside down pyramid type of construction. The top of each row overhangs the lower row. This provides protection from the sun and rain. I started by separating the bamboo by length. To provide a base, I used a scrap piece of 1x2. I nailed the longest bamboo first. Nailing is the fastest way but hot glue is what I will use in the future. The brads will not split the bamboo if you nail near the ridges or “nodes”. I used the next smallest in length for the next row and so on. The 1x2 was left longer on the ends to help secure it to a tree branch or stump.

Step 6:

When you make your own, just register your habitat with the University of Florida and submit any data gathered. Remember to check it regularly by setting a schedule or alarm on your phone.

You can take pride that your new hobby is helping protect and study solitary bees.

Go to scistarter to get started!

Comments

author
RandyPerson (author)2013-01-29

Lots of great enthusiasm, so here are a few tips to avoid disappointment. If you are trying to encourage mason bees, holes 5/16" diameter and 5" to 7" deep are ideal. It's a rough world out there, and the holes will also be occupied by mites, parasitic wasps, large larvae that eat the bee larvae, mold, and so on. This is why a system that allows opening the holes to clean the cocoons in the fall is so important. All those things can be tossed with a simple washing, leaving clean cocoons for your next season. Also, don't use plastic straws, even if they are the right diameter. They do not breathe, and the moisture that will be trapped inside will encourage mold, which will kill the bee larvae. Plus you will not be able to easily open the straws to get at those that do survive. I'll refer you once again to the WSU extension web site in my earlier post as a great place to get more information.

BTW, I've read of carpenter bees, which are apparently a destructive pest that thankfully we don't have out here in the Pacific NW. If mason bees "invade" your home, like using spaces between shakes and shingles, they do no harm. They also don't sting, so there is no need to keep them away from people. In fact, most of mine are just a little above doorway height on the east facing wall of my garage. You can get a great view of them in action with no danger.

author
mathiemom (author)2013-01-25

What is the diameter of the bamboo that you used?

author
jrjohnwood (author)2013-01-24

they are called mason bees. I have a plant nursery and have been providing straw tube nesting boxes for hundreds of them every year. I have been doing this for 5 years now, and they pollinate just as good as honey bees without the sting-or the honey.

author
The Lightning Stalker (author)2013-01-24

There's a wasp around here that makes nests just like that. It likes to fill up screw holes in machinery that has been sitting around.

author
Euphrosyne (author)2013-01-24

This is wonderful. I can't install the home, landlord won't agree, but i CAN plant a trumpet vine which will help with food? Thanks for your great idea.

author
DeeRilee (author)2013-01-24

had trouble adding the image, but here it is now!

006.JPG
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tjesse (author)DeeRilee2013-01-24

That's really nice! I will be making one of those too! Very kid friendly and creative. This is why I offer a pro-membership. I will PM you within 24 hours with the code.

author
DeeRilee (author)tjesse2013-01-24

Thanks!!!!! I was impatient....and braved the cold! Rather than tromp around in the damp bushes, I placed "Bee House #1" under the eaves of the carport. The garden is about 30 feet away, and there are already carpenter bees nearby.

author
DeeRilee (author)DeeRilee2013-01-24

Picture of it in place....I'll need to use a ladder to check it.

solitary bee habitat 002.JPG
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djimdy (author)2013-01-24

Are these the same bees that will bore holes into your wood-sided house, eaves, etc?
If so, would making such a habitat attract greater populations that would then be tempted to bore into other structures?

author
tjesse (author)djimdy2013-01-24

Not all solitary bees make holes, infact most just take advantage of pre-dug holes in wood. I have a concrete block home so I never thought about home damage.

author
DeeRilee (author)tjesse2013-01-24

I have a healthy population of carpenter bees living in my sheds & carport. I'm hoping that they will prefer pre-made habitats over building their own!

The seem to prefer 'drilling' their holes in unpainted wood. This summer I plan on painting the sheds inside & out....already painted my carport.

author
tjesse (author)DeeRilee2013-01-24

I would use a soft wood like fir. That, along with painting the shed should work.

author
DeeRilee (author)2013-01-24

My bamboo was of too great a diameter....so I took one section (with a node attached) that's 7" X 2"od. Then I packed it full of drinking straws that I cut to 5" lengths. The weather is cold & damp, so I'll wait for the next warm day to place it near my garden.

I can't wait to try other designs & see which works the best.

author
DeeRilee (author)2013-01-24

I think I'll try cutting bamboo with the nodes in the center of the section, and hang the habitat from the bottom of a tree branch.....that would give me a two-sided habitat! Each section of bamboo would be a bee 'duplex'!

author
tjesse (author)DeeRilee2013-01-24

Brilliant! Post a pic if you decide to build it.

author
DeeRilee (author)2013-01-24

This is a great project! I've got a hummingbird/butterfly garden......and some of these would be great to hang near it.

I had a bunch of bamboo lengths given to me by a friend who was cutting down a patch that had gotten damaged by a winter storm.

author
plynn1 (author)2013-01-24

Is a woodcarpenter bee called a solitairy bee? Must wonder which is called that. To make sure that is.

author
nerocon (author)plynn12013-01-24

Carpenter bee's are indeed solitary bee's, but they are not mutually exclusive. Solitary bee's include carpenter, sweat, mason, polyester, squash, dwarf carpenter, leafcutter, alkali, and digger. (pulled from wikipeida)

author
Klappstuhl (author)2013-01-24

Could I do that with waffle rolls too? Just wondering, could be used as food to them or provide a nice temporary scaffolding for a potential beehive.

author
Thinkenstein (author)2013-01-24

Have solitary bees been disappearing like honey bees, too? It's probably a good idea for every community to support a solitary bee population, if it can, as insurance against disappearing honey bees. You promote a good cause very well.

author
tjesse (author)Thinkenstein2013-01-24

It would be amazing if everyone did a little bit, not just with bees but with something they can get passionate about. All bee populations have the same basic problem, the removal of places to live and things to eat. Land development removes dead trees and native flowering plants. I'm not saying that I have not contributed to this, just that I'm aware of the problem and aim to help a little bit.

author
bajablue (author)2013-01-24

Truly fascinating,  tjesse!

I've never heard of solitary bees.  Thanks for sharing!

author
themaninthemoon (author)2013-01-24

A simply wonderful idea, ......these would make great DNR projects, for in & around your community,.......I know of the bee hive shortages that are definitely hurting our economy, & our communities, because, if you think about it there is nothing that we have for sustenance that does not either directly, or subsequently by indirect methods come from the bee population, even the clothes on our backs, like cotton, & yes even wool, (because the sheep have to eat too), comes as an indirect resource of the bee, ....
I'm impressed with the amount of knowledge that could be gained, & will also recommend, this idea be implemented within our local school structure, & see how many interests I can get for school instruction, & experimentation on different types of materials that can be used for this project, .....

author
fishrmn100 (author)2013-01-24

I think that this is something I will try. Sounds interesting!
I need more bees and wasps on my place to do their things.
Think I would hang the habitats out of reach, so as to not be stung.

author
RandyPerson (author)2013-01-21

Bravo for supporting solitary bees. I've raised vast numbers of mason bees (Osmia lignaria) for over 10 years. To be truly successful with such bees, two elements are key: Proper hole depth, and the ability to clean the nests each year. I collect, clean, and re-distribute the cocoons each fall, and did about 15,000 last year. Mason bees are native to N America. If they are in your area, check out the Washington State University extension program web site at gardening.wsu.edu/library/inse006/inse006.htm. At the end of their article are links to ones I wrote on how to make your own nests with paper liners. Right length, easily cleanable, and much cheaper than store-bought. Lots of good photos, too. I didn't know about instructables then, but it's good to get the word out. There are also good products available commercially, if you like bees and don't have time to make your own. But don't buy wood blocks with holes drilled in them (commonly available). They are usually too short, and can't be cleaned. Any questions, post a note and I'll try to help. Sorry, I didn't use a penny in the pictures - but the hands are my wife's!

author
tjesse (author)RandyPerson2013-01-22

Thank you! Welcome to the instructables community. I think you will fit in just fine here and would like to see ideas you have on subject of bee keeping. I will soon be making one with clear tubing so I can learn as much as I can about how they nest. The tubes will be kept in a dark incloseure until I'm ready to observe it.

author
tjesse (author)2013-01-21

I will give a pro-membership to the first person to make a bee habitat using the parameters set by the University of Florida. Post a picture of it in its new outdoor location (If weather allows). Put a penny in the picture to prove it is your original work.

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Bio: I'm a husband, a parent and an 8th grade science teacher.
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